Pathogenic microorganisms

Some of our people study pathogenic or infectious microorganisms, trying to find cures for diseases of people, animals and plants.

All microorganisms in Risk Groups (RG) 2, 3 or 4 need to be handled at the appropriate corresponding Physical Containment (PC) level (eg. PC2 for RG2).

For information about how to handle the samples, refer to Sections 3-5 of the Australian/New Zealand Standard 2243.3:2010 Safety in laboratories Part 3: Microbiological safety and containment. Curtin staff and students have access to the Standard through Curtin Library’s SAI Global account. Search for ‘2243.3:2010’ to get the Standard. Your downloaded copy of the Standard will self-erase after a couple of days, and you’ll need to go back to SAI Global to get another copy each time you need it.

If you can handle your microorganism at the same PC level as their RG then you don’t need Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC) approval. This includes handling the microorganism entirely within a Class II Biosafety Cabinet if it can be infective via the respiratory route. However, if you need to use non-Standard methods, contact the biosafety advisor. They will help you to seek IBC assessment and approval of your methods before you can begin work.

We recommended you get the appropriate immunisations listed in The Australian Immunisation Handbook 10th Edition 2015. There may be other vaccinations available that are relevant to the samples you are handling.

Security Sensitive Biological Agents (SSBAs)

The Security Sensitive Biological Agents (SSBA) Regulatory Scheme limits the opportunities for acts of bioterrorism or biocrime to occur using harmful biological agents.

Curtin is not registered to work with SSBAs, so it’s illegal for any of our people to store or work with SSBAs.

What are SSBAs?

SSBAs are weaponisable pathogens or toxins that could be used to make a bioweapon.

Tier 1 Agents

  • Abrin (reportable quantity 5 mg)
  • Bacillus anthracis (Anthraxvirulent strains)
  • Botulinum toxin (non-therapeutic forms, reportable quantity 0.5 mg)
  • Ebolavirus
  • Foot-and-mouth disease virus
  • Highly pathogenic influenza virus, infecting humans
  • Marburgvirus
  • Ricin (reportable quantity 5 mg)
  • Rinderpest virus
  • SARS coronavirus
  • Variola virus (Smallpox)
  • Yersinia pestis (Plague)

Tier 2 Agents

  • African swine fever virus
  • Capripoxvirus (Sheep pox virus and Goat pox virus)
  • Classical swine fever virus
  • Clostridium botulinum (Botulism; toxin-producing strains)
  • Francisella tularensis (Tularaemia)
  • Lumpy skin disease virus
  • Peste-des-petits-ruminants virus
  • Yellow fever virus (non-vaccine strains)

How do I begin working with SSBAs at Curtin?

All activities related to SSBAs are regulated by the National Health Security Act (2007) – Part 3. It’s illegal to have any SSBA unless it’s being held following all the requirements of the SSBA regulatory system. Curtin is not registered to work with SSBAs, so it’s illegal for any of our people to store or work with SSBAs.

If you want to work with any SSBA in the future, then you must contact the biosafety advisor and the Chair of the IBC immediately to discuss the possibility once the proper registration has been gained from the Federal Government Department of Health and Aging.

It’s possible to culture an SSBA from an environmental sample or a biological sample without specifically meaning to do so. If you become aware that you have cultured a presumptive SSBA, you must immediately contact the biosafety advisor or the Chair of the IBC

Legislation governing the use of SSBAs in Australia

Part 3 of the National Health Security Act 2007 and Regulations 2008 describes a national scheme for the regulation of SSBAs in Australia and builds on Australia’s obligations under the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (1975) and UN Security Council Resolution 1540 (2004).

The Department of Health and Ageing (DoHA) is the administrative body under the Act. Any institution that intends to store or perform research with, SSBAs must be registered with DoHa before the agent is imported into their site.

See the Department of Health’s page about SSBAs for more information.